Prescription for Success
By Lisa Hill DiFusco
It is a paradox to give away what you want the most, and then receive more of what you want in return.
I remember Oprah Winfrey giving this advice many years ago at the end of her show. “Whatever it is you want,” she said, “more love, more time, more money… find someone (something) else to give it to… with a joyful heart… and see what happens.”
Sixty-five time best-selling author, Ken Blanchard, spoke at last year’s Global Leadership Summit VIP luncheon at the DoubleTree and discussed the same from his newest book Servant Leadership in Action. “To be truly happy,” he said, “serve others.” Give to others what you want for yourself.
In this, our second edition of the Rochester Leadership Digest, we are privileged to feature three guest contributors, all Rochester leaders, one of whom is Nelson Leenhouts- long-time local business owner who describes Servant Leadership as key to his business and happiness.
It’s worth thinking about!
The inverted triangle, that is the company leader on the bottom and the “worker-bees” on the top, demonstrates the Servant Leadership model, and is what is also behind the success of Chick-fil-A.
A few years ago I had the honor of meeting one of their VPs, Mark Miller, several-time author and co-author with Ken Blanchard at a leadership conference. I was sitting at a lunch table placed in the open air, a good 5-minute walk from where lunch was served. Once at my table and all set to enjoy a delicious meal, I realized I forgot to grab something to drink. When Mark came by, he no sooner introduced himself than he asked, “Hey I notice you’re missing something to drink. Would you like me to get it for you?”
Now mind you, I had never met this person before, and no sooner was he introducing himself, than he was offering to walk 10 minutes – five back to the buffet table and five back to our lunch table – to get a stranger something to drink.
Other local businesses share a similar philosophy of service. Recently I sent one of our Airbnb guests to Mayer Paint & Hardware. Those of you who have been there know just what I mean – a hardware gem on the corner of Winton and Blossom Road. He was looking for something to fix his babyseat for his ride back to Ohio. I told him to go to Mayer’s because I knew their customer service is really excellent, and they’d “fix ’em up.” They did, and our guest came back very surprised to have received just what he needed!
These successful leaders have something in common. Giving to someone else that which you most want, is not just a recipe for business success and prosperity, it is a fundamental principle which results in greater happiness, connection, peace, and joy.
Lisa Hill DiFusco is the President and Founder of The LightHeart Institute, a for-profit, 32 year-old Rochester company whose mission is to foster an upward spiral of health and prosperity. Through a holistic lens it offers services and programs in leadership development, holistic/integrative psychotherapy, functional medicine consultancy-care and spiritual growth.
Servant Leadership Works
By Nelson Leenhouts
Chairman, Home Leasing & Home Leasing Construction
For starters – who am I? I am 83 years young and blessed to have led the development of a few successful companies over my 50+ years in the real estate industry. At the “peak” of my career, I was responsible for 1,500 employees. As I reflect on my work, I have increasingly realized that the use of Servant Leadership has been key to my success and my happiness. But, let’s start at the beginning. I have lived in the Rochester area all my life. I am an identical twin and my brother, Norm, and I were business partners most of our lives. My wife and I have 5 children, 15 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren (so far!). I think of myself as having a strong faith.
I attribute much of my success to my mother, Myrna. She was widowed at a very young age and worked to support our family of 4 with a small dairy business. Mother was a Servant Leader although we did not use that term back then. For example, she would be the first person at the dairy every morning to start the boiler and generate steam for pasteurizing milk. This required her to get up at about 4 am 7 days a week. She always greeted customers with a smile and asked how they were doing. When Norm and I worked the soda fountain she insisted that we greet every customer with a smile no matter what. She taught us respect for all and to make work a pleasure.
Norm and I started our real estate business, Home Leasing, in 1967. For two of the early years, I was the only full-time employee. We had little money so we formed investor partnerships for each property. We grew quickly and by 1993 we had almost 400 investor partners mostly from the Rochester area. To fuel further expansion, Norm and I took the company public in 1995 as Home Properties, listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Home Properties grew quickly over our decade of involvement from about 3,000 apartments to 50,000 and our investors did very well.
In 2005, at age 70, our corporate by-laws, dictated by Wall Street, required Norm and I to step down as co-CEOs. Our path being chosen, we retired from Home Properties to each form separate businesses. Norm, and his daughter, Amy Tait, formed Broadstone, a private real estate company specializing in commercial property. I, along with my daughter, Cathy Sperrick, continued Home Leasing as a closely held family business focused primarily on creating and managing affordable multi-family communities.
We designed Home Leasing to be unique in the multi-family housing business. As a for-profit company, we develop, build and manage residential communities. We focus on the long-term benefit that we provide to our residents, our employees and my family. We insist on quality design and construction to last the test of time. Home Leasing now has 22 completed communities with more than 2,000 apartments throughout New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. We currently have 6 new communities under construction, two of which our construction company is building for other developers. We have strong partnerships with not-for-profit companies that provide support for our residents and the communities in which we work. We are dedicated to adhere to our mission to, “Improve the lives of our residents and the communities in which we work.” We believe that every Home Leasing stakeholder directly or indirectly participates in this mission. Even when we build for other companies, we feel that it is our responsibility to build the best quality communities for the residents they serve.
We were proud to become a Certified B Corporation (B Corp) in 2017, one of about 2,250 in the world and the first real estate development and construction company with this designation in New York State. Certification required us to prove – and continue to demonstrate – that Home Leasing operates as a force for good and meets the highest standards of transparency and accountability in dealings with our residents, employees, partners, and customers. We support sustainable practices within our company and our communities and always seek to provide opportunities for advancement for our staff, and paths to family self-sufficiency for our residents.
Did I mention that I’m 83? Probably time to concentrate a bit on succession so that this wonderful company we’ve built with our employees, residents, and partners will continue to deliver on its mission. To that end, we hired Bret Garwood as COO nearly 2 years ago who as of March 2019 has taken over as CEO for Home Leasing. I will continue as Chairman as long as I am able. Bret is a true Servant Leader. I often see him going around the office asking each person how he can help. He has a special way of empowering our team by sharing his industry experience and connecting them with resources to make them successful.
I attribute a great deal of our success to Servant Leadership as modeled early on by my mother. For us, this means putting our teammates first – just as she put others first at the dairy and soda fountain. As Servant Leaders, we look to helping them succeed in concert with our mission before turning to our own agendas. In our industry, it means putting our residents on the top of the organizational chart and the CEO at the bottom. The CEO serves the Leadership Team that serves the construction and management teams who serve community leaders and maintenance staff who work directly with the residents that live in our communities. For us, we believe that all stakeholders – employees, residents, government representatives, neighbors, investors, contractors, and family owners should be treated as customers deserving of our attention.
What does this mean day to day? We are careful to select and train new teammates, so they have the self-confidence, the empathy and humility to become Servant Leaders. We are deliberate when we onboard new employees to emphasize our mission, our values, and leadership philosophy. As Servant Leaders, we encourage more listening than talking. We empower employees to make decisions. We stress that providing quality homes for individuals and families of all incomes is an integral part of our mission. We provide a work environment where it is safe to take risks and be honest and trust each other. Whenever possible, we believe that decisions should be made by those closest to our customers. We are personally fulfilled by the positive impact of our work. We also try not to take ourselves too seriously. Instead, we aspire to act as servants for each other and are not too concerned about who gets the credit. I know that this sounds like an idealistic culture. It certainly requires a unique group of rather humble people. I can’t say that it’s always easy – it will always be a work in process. However, I think it is working. Our annual surveys do indicate a high level of employee engagement and satisfaction and we recently were selected as one of the top 65 workplaces by the Democrat and Chronicle out of 1,200 that applied in the Rochester area.
Mother’s Servant Leadership works. It has been the key to our success. In the long run, I believe it is the most rewarding and profitable way to do business. I am blessed to be a participant and hope to continue working for many more years.
People get much more done when they don’t care who gets the credit.— Benjamin Franklin
Leaders Growing Through Connections and Curiosity
By Rehnuma Karim Ph.D.
Founder, Heroes for All Inc. and Faculty, College at Brockport, SUNY
True leaders must stay hungry to grow. They need to take advantage of every opportunity to connect with people who challenge them to become their best versions.
When we choose to lead… we make a choice to execute with vision, empathy, persistence, adaptability, curiosity, awareness, positivity and faith. From my personal point of view—we slowly transform into leaders when we are ready to give our best with a goal of bringing positive change. And it’s not about the businesses we build for our own personal gain but it’s about the people we impact through the services or products we create.
The quote, “Great leaders don’t set out to be a leader. They set out to make a difference. It’s never about the role. It’s always about the goal…” truly resonated with me when studying characteristics of great leaders and companies.
Great companies who continue to leave a mark in the global arena strive to make a difference by asking what they can do differently to serve better. In our own backyard, Kodak was a shining example of imagination and innovation that aimed at making a difference on how we view films and taking pictures. It captured 90% of the US film market and was one of the world’s most valuable brands (Forbes, 2012). But sadly it came to an end when Kodak failed to adapt, and see changes occurring in the marketplace and with consumers. Management discouraged Steve Sasson, the Kodak engineer who, in 1975, invented the first digital camera, by asking him to keep quiet about his invention. They thought it might disrupt their existing film-based business. The problem was that Kodak failed to see the potential of what their business could have been. They didn’t focus on how to best serve their customers by more effectively and efficiently preserving precious moments of life. They were fearful of change.
Leaders of organizations can no longer afford to be complacent with fixed mindsets that thwart growth in a competitive era of globalization. Leaders today must emphasize two core areas of leadership development: building a network and continuous learning. Thankfully both of these elements are available to our community through the annual Global Leadership Summit (GLS) – a 2-day event which brings prominent speakers from all over the world via satellite to share their thoughts and experiences with the Rochester audience.
I was fortunate enough to be part of the organizing committee of the 2018 GLS which allowed me to connect with prominent community leaders and helped me gain knowledge of new trends and ideas. I learned that connecting with like-minded people brings about real change. Nothing is more powerful than getting people together for a common purpose. And that is why, true leaders must stay hungry to grow. They need to take advantage of every opportunity to connect with people who challenge them to become their best versions.
I was personally inspired meeting Dr. Ken Blanchard at the Summit, author of the bestselling book, The One Minute Manager. I had the opportunity to discuss his belief of true leadership: “We should not focus on love of power, but rather on the power of love.” At the Summit I was able to learn from leadership gurus such as Simon Sinek and John Maxwell—to name just a few. Rochester is very fortunate to be a part of this amazing initiative. It can play a transformative role in fostering change makers who can build a thriving community.
Rehnuma Karim, Ph.D. is the Founder of the New York and Bangladesh based Non-Profit Heroes for All Inc., and a faculty member at the College of Brockport. Her passion for leadership and motivation drives her to speak at various venues in academics and in business.